This Yankees’ offseason, literally to the final minutes before their 2022 opener Friday, played out as if the franchise were trying to see just how much it could dismay and disappoint its fan base.
The Yankees didn’t sign Freddie Freeman. They shunned the greatest free-agent shortstop class ever. And in the final hours before Gerrit Cole delivered the first pitch against the Red Sox, general manager Brian Cashman announced a failure to reach an extension with the best, most popular player on the team — Aaron Judge.
This served as a kind of tic-tac-toe of infuriating the loyalist; verification for those who believe Hal Steinbrenner’s Yankees are averse to fully flexing their financial might.
But over nearly four hours and 11 innings of what proved to be an uplifting 6-5 Yankees triumph Friday, the club demonstrated both that it did not actually sit idly during the offseason and that it does have layers of talent on the most ridiculed $250 million-plus payroll ever.
“A lot of guys on our side obviously contributed,” manager Aaron Boone said.
Anthony Rizzo, whom the Yankees gave a two-year, $32 million pact to return, counterpunched a three-run Cole top of the first with a two-run homer off Boston ace Nathan Eovaldi in the bottom half that instantly got the Yankees back into this game.
That opened the scoring.
Josh Donaldson, who came with a two-year, $50 million commitment in a trade with Minnesota, snaked an RBI single up the middle to score Isiah-Kiner Falefa (who was in the trade with Donaldson) in the 11th inning.
That closed the scoring and gave the Yankees the win.
In between Rizzo’s first-inning homer, with Judge aboard, and Donaldson’s winning single, the Yankees went 0-for-15 with men on base. They survived thanks to yeoman work from seven relievers, including a key strikeout from another newcomer, Miguel Castro.
But the most important transactions for the Yankees likely will not be outsiders, they will be if they can reacquire all of those position players who went south in 2021 — and took the offense with them. Kyle Higashioka noted the names and stated: “That was a one-off. People weren’t themselves.”
That checklist included Gleyber Torres and, especially, DJ LeMahieu. So to that end, Game 1 was encouraging, and not just because Boston won the first seven games against the Yankees last year and then, most vitally, the wild-card game at Fenway Park, which also was started by Cole and Eovaldi.
LeMahieu drilled a tying homer into the right-field bleachers in the eighth inning. LeMahieu has as many top-four MVP finishes with the Yankees (two) as Judge does. But after his starry 2019-20 seasons and signing a six-year, $90 million pact, LeMahieu came down a few notches in 2021, perhaps due to a core injury that would lead to hernia surgery in the offseason. The non-loquacious LeMahieu described himself as “in a good place,” and if he is the Yankees offense upgrades.
Torres is coming off of two down years, and if the roster depth of the Yankees needed a symbol, he did not start on Opening Day and was admittedly annoyed about it. But he was available as a pinch-hit weapon in the 10th inning, battling from an 0-2 count and late-afternoon shadows to lift the tying sacrifice fly to assure that there would be an 11th inning for Donaldson to culminate what a few Yankees described as a “playoff-like atmosphere” considering the nip-tuck of the game, more than 46,000 in attendance and the game’s most enduring rivals as the competitors.
But the 2022 opener will not be remembered best for that. This will be the opener when negotiations between Judge and the Yankees closed. At a press conference, Cashman announced the Yankees were willing not only to give Judge between the $17 million-to-$21 million he will make in arbitration, but $30.5 million over the next seven years, or $213.5 million. The Yankees have not previously announced failed bids. Cashman said he did this for “transparency,” but that is only true if transparency now means an organization wants a fan base that has been calling it cheap to know how far the Yankees were willing to go financially.
Judge clearly was disappointed that distance included making this offer public. Judge adores privacy like 450-foot homers. He certainly was not telling what he was seeking. Instead, he reaffirmed that he will now next discuss a deal with the Yankees or any of the other 29 teams when he is a free agent. Also in words and actions during the game he showed a tunnel vision not to let the business of baseball impact his play.
Instead, he teamed with newcomers and regenerated holdovers to offer a reminder that with all the Yankees didn’t do, they still have a deep, talented roster.